Costumes 2014

One of our favorite family projects is our costumes each year.  As fall progresses, we inevitably begin discussing what our family costume could be.  This year, we had our idea pretty early, but without a real reason to put the costume together, we had sadly decided to just let it go this year.  With a 4-month old and an almost-3-year-old, our time was too valuable to spend on a costume that we’d never really wear anywhere.

But that all changed when an invitation to a Halloween party arrived from our friends!  We had about a week and a half to put together our costume, and we forged full-speed ahead!

Introducing: Lego Movie family!



We decided to be the “real-life” versions of the characters (rather than make ourselves into minifigs/blocks).  P.S.  Thanks, Amanda, for your help taking photos!

I absolutely love this annual project that Husband and I do together (in the future, I’m looking forward to our kids’ increasing involvement!).  I really feel like we work so well together for our costumes; it is a true collaboration, and we have so much fun!

Husband was Emmet, of course.



We made a construction vest for him out of orange felt and reflective duct tape (with drawn-on pocket and pen, just like Emmet’s vest!).  Husband also made an ID tag for himself.


I was Wyldstyle.



I found an image of the graffiti-style artwork on her jacket by doing a search online, and we turned it into a Silhouette cut file so that we could make a freezer-paper stencil.  Husband did a fantastic job tweaking the stencil to fit properly on my jacket and lining up the two colors!


The part of the costume I was most looking forward to was adding color to my hair!  Unfortunately the inexpensive “hair mascara” we found wasn’t quite as vibrant as we’d hoped, but it did an okay job.  Now I think we’re going to have to find more costumes with colored hair for me! ;-)  I’m considering just putting colored streaks in my hair from time to time…just for the fun of it!


Our daughter was Princess Unikitty.




The most important part, of course, was a headband with ears and a unicorn horn.  We created the horn based on some photos of cute unicorn horns on Etsy, and made the ears with stitched triangles of pink felt.  The horn is attached to the headband by a “strap” of felt sewn into its base, and the ears attach with loops of elastic.  It’s a bonus that the horn and ears are removeable; it just worked out that it was the most effective way to attach them.


I also made a tail.  I spend hours (literally) nursing my son, so I have a lot of time to visualize these sorts of things in my head, and I was pretty excited that my idea to use a gusset to give it a squared-off shape worked the first time!  The waist straps are based off of a tutorial for adorable dinosaur/dragon tails that I have pinned (I really, really want to make some more tails now! ;-))  I added the pink tutu at the last minute because I am convinced that if Unikitty were a human girl, she would most definitely have a tutu.  Plus it made V’s outfit more “costumey.”


What had clinched the idea for this particular family costume was that we had a hat for our little boy– it was Husband’s when he was a baby, and it was absolutely perfect for Benny the Spaceman!



We found a blue onesie at Hobby Lobby and purchased some blue pants elsewhere.  I did another search online for the Lego Space logo and turned it into a cut file for my Silhouette.  We stenciled a solid white layer first, then added the yellow and red once it was dry.


How about some action shots?





Spaceship, spaceship, SPACESHIP!!!!!

Spaceship, spaceship, SPACESHIP!!!!!

Lap desk

I’ve been wanting to write this post for a long time!!  I am so excited about this project.

Way back in August, my brother got married.  And there was no question that I was going to be there!  But the wedding was far, far away, and our boy was just 6 weeks old.  We decided to drive, rather than fly (still not sure whether our decision was the best one…but we made it!!), so I wanted to make sure our girl was well-stocked with activities for the car.  As Husband and I brainstormed all sorts of ideas, we decided we should have some sort of lap desk for her.  This project started out as a simple magnetic dry erase board with a few colored dry erase markers.  And then it became so much more!

Even though I had negative free time, I knew I wanted to make this a really special lap desk.  I had an idea in my mind to add pockets on the sides so that she could put her markers and other activities into them.  While I nursed my baby boy, I dreamed about designs.  A search on Pinterest for “lap desk for car” yielded a lot of results.  There was one that looked almost exactly like my theoretical lap desk.  The pin led to a post on the “Mer Mag” blog which had lots of different views of her creation, and in reading the text of the post, I found another post on her blog where she’d written a skeletal tutorial to construct the car lap desk.  It was exactly what I needed to boost my sleep-deprived-mama-brain into gear to make my lap desk.  I mean, my daughter’s lap desk! ;-)

My sweet husband helped me to put together enough moments to make the desk in time for our car trip.  I still have no idea how we managed to find me the time!

I am so extremely proud of how this thing turned out!

finished lap desk


V explores her new lap desk– a surprise on our big road trip.

Here are the features:


finished lap desk

finished lap desk

finished lap desk

finished lap desk

The lap desk is fully washable.  The magnetic white board is tied onto the top with narrow ribbon.  A piece of cardboard slips into a fabric pocket underneath the white board to add stability, and it also adds enough width so that the hanging pockets clear the sides of V’s car seat.  An envelope pillowcase attached to the underside of the desk holds a small pillow so that the desk sits on a bit of padding on her lap.  If it needs to be laundered, I can remove the whiteboard, cardboard, and pillow and throw the whole thing into the washing machine.

finished lap desk

finished lap desk

finished lap desk

There is a handle so that it can be carried more easily.  The pocket that encases the cardboard is closed with loops of narrow elastic that secure a row of colorful, mismatched buttons (which intrigue V– bonus!).  On each side, there are hanging zippered pockets for storage of things like markers and a rag for wiping the whiteboard.  On the outside of the zippered pockets, I added more pockets, and two of them are held open by a bit of boning to make them wide-mouthed.  I didn’t want my daughter to struggle to put her things into them.

With the exception of the whiteboard and the narrow yellow ribbon, I made the lap desk entirely out of materials I had on hand.  The black and white chevron fabric was originally destined to become cloth napkins, but I am so much happier that it became this project!

finished lap desk

Within moments, the bows come out of the yellow ribbon–inquiring little fingers cannot resist!! I make sure that the ribbon is knotted first, and add the bows just for looks :)


This lap desk was such a hit!!  V absolutely loved coloring on it with the (washable) whiteboard markers, and Husband had the brilliant idea to transform some adorable dimensional animal stickers into magnets (we simply glued plain round magnets to the backs of the stickers).  V had a grand time placing them all on the whiteboard and moving them around.  We didn’t even need to break out the magnetic alphabet, since V was so intrigued with the markers and the animal magnets!  As she gets older, I can see attaching coloring pages and activity sheets to the whiteboard with magnets so that she can work on them.  On every subsequent car trip (which have been much shorter in length, thankfully!),  V has requested her lap desk, and we are more than happy to see her coloring on it or playing with the magnets!

finished lap desk

finished lap desk

finished lap desk


We made magnets from dimensional animal stickers, and V loved moving them around on the magnetic whiteboard surface of her lap desk!


I took really detailed notes as I constructed the desk, as well as a ridiculous number of photos.  I want to make one for my little boy when he is old enough to need one (thankfully I have at least a year or two ;-)).  Maybe I’ll even write a tutorial post… but if Ido, it won’t be for a while.  It already took me almost a month to get most of the photos of the finished lap desk (just two were taken on our road trip, the rest were “staged” when the car was in our driveway at home a month later), and two months to get these photos on the blog!

So, in the past, I have had a rocky relationship with groundhogs.

But with this particular garden, I haven’t had much trouble… yet. I guess the groundhog I’ve seen in our yard and the neighbors’ yard has enough to eat outside the garden patch and doesn’t feel the need to invade, and I am thankful.

However, one day over the summer, I looked out into our back yard, into the line of trees that separate our property from the one behind it.

And I saw something…





Something watching me.



Is that a dare, Groundhog??

You stay out of my garden, and we will remain at peace.  I hope we understand each other.

I’m continuing our challenge from 2013 to make at least one new recipe from our two newer cookbooks each month.  There’s a category on the blog for these posts called “recipe review 2014.”

~ ~ ~

Recipe:  Gnocchi in Tomato Broth from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook (pages 116-119)

SK Gnocchi in Tomato Broth

  • when did we make this? Husband made a double batch on Sunday, September 14 to share with friends on the 15th.
  • did we change anything? Husband modified the potatoes quite a bit because of how labor-intensive the process became.  Also, he made the executive decision to leave the chopped vegetables in the broth, rather than strain them out.  In one batch, he pureed the broth and veggies into a thicker soup, and in the other, he left the vegetables as-is.
  • what did we like?  Great flavors, delicious gnocchi!  It is a lovely comfort-food kind of dish, and heartier than I expected.
  • what didn’t we like?  The potato preparation for the gnocchi could be simplified.
  • will we make it again (any changes in the future)?  I think we will make this again.  Husband has ideas about how to simplify the potato process, and I think we’ve decided that the broth (veggies strained out) is the way to go (as per the recipe ;-)).

Vivian's tomato plant


One thing that I will definitely do again in the future is have plants in containers for my kids.  My daughter absolutely loved being able to watch the progress of her cherry tomato plant on the back deck.

And when the first tomatoes were ripe, she picked them herself and ate them all up!

Vivian picking her first tomatoes!

Vivian picking her first tomatoes!

Vivian picking her first tomatoes!

Vivian picking her first tomatoes!


I think she ate every tomato that this plant produced!  I loved watching my girl get such joy out of gardening!  I definitely will encourage this in the future ;-)

I’m continuing our challenge from 2013 to make at least one new recipe from our two newer cookbooks each month.  There’s a category on the blog for these posts called “recipe review 2014.”

~ ~ ~

Recipe:  Angel Food Cake from The Complete America’s Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook 2001-2013, (page 594)


ATK angel food cake.

ATK angel food cake.

ATK angel food cake.


  • when did we make this? Sunday, September 14, to share with friends on the 15th.  We’ve had egg whites saved in the freezer after using a lot of yolks making custard to use in my ice cream machine attachment for my mixer.
  • did we change anything?  Nope.
  • what did we like?  Holy cow, this is delicious, and I wouldn’t normally pick angel food cake!
  • what didn’t we like?  Nothing.  
  • will we make it again (any changes in the future)?  Definitely.  It is an absolute bonus to have a fantastic recipe to make with the egg whites we have left after making homemade ice cream! ;-)

Turns out, having a baby takes a lot of time!  Add in a smart and energetic toddler/preschooler, and things like writing blog posts take a back-seat role for a while :)

I’m popping in today to share part one of a few wrap-up posts about the garden this past summer.  I took photos throughout the summer, but it proved to be too hard for me to get them edited and posted on the blog in anything close to real-time.  So I’ll share some now, with some things I learned and want to remember as I plan my future gardens.

The three photos below show what my garden plot looked like in mid-July.  On this particular day, I harvested one zucchini– the very first piece of produce from this year’s garden!

garden today

cucumber, pepper, zucchini


Let’s talk about the zucchini first, shall we?

I had two varieties in my garden, a Lake Valley seed company variety and a Burpee seed company variety.  I got a grand total of one small zucchini (a strangely-shaped 1/2 pound one) from the Burpee plant, which surprised me.  The Lake Valley plant grew to a monstrous size and gave us 10 fruits!  Yum.  We grilled some, we made fritters, and of course we made zucchini bread!  The plant got quite unwieldy by the end of the summer, and started breaking when we harvested.  However, this is the first summer where my zucchini harvest even approached the “feed your neighborhood” quantity touted on the packet!


The cucumbers were underwhelming this summer.  After last year’s amazing yield, I was super-excited for cucumbers to come out my ears!  But they seemed to get started late, and the vines never got very full.  In fact, I got half the number of fruits off of approximately twice the garden “real-estate.”

Carmen pepper

our first carmen pepper

Also in the “disappointment” category are the peppers.  I didn’t expect much from my from-seed-seedlings, which was good: they died almost immediately (or got trampled??).  But I had high hopes for the store-bought plant.  We ended up getting two red peppers from it.

The tomatoes, on the other hand, were plentiful!

Indigo Rose tomato

Indigo Rose tomato

The Indigo Rose tomatoes (purchased plants) were beautiful to look at.  The flavor wasn’t anything spectacular, though, so I don’t think we will get them again.

Bonnie Grape tomato

We absolutely loved the Bonnie Grape (purchased plants) tomatoes.  They yielded like crazy, and we could hardly keep up with them.  The flavor was fantastic and they were perfect for salads.  Usually I am loathe to cook with delicious home-grown tomatoes like this, but we had so many that I actually tried them in a soup recipe that called for cherry-type tomatoes!

We got only a few tomatoes from the plants I started from seed (Best Boy and Fourth of July varieties).  In comparing them to the other varieties, though, we did decide that we liked the fleshiness of the Best Boy fruits, especially for things like sandwiches.  The flavor of the Fourth of July tomatoes was much better than the flavor of the Indigo Rose fruits.

Well, you can tell which half of the herb box is under the overhang...  whoops.

My herbs were a bust.  I don’t think I even used any from this box!!  How disappointing.  I was good about watering them until the baby was born, and after that, they were dependent on the rain.  As you can see from the photo above, part of the box is shielded by the second floor overhang of our house.  Bummer.  They all dried out and died really quickly.  I’m glad they were freebie seeds or I would be even more sad than I already am.

gorgeous harvest from our garden today

quite a harvest awaited us in the garden when we got home from our trip!


We got some really beautiful harvests this summer.  The colors were gorgeous, and even though I was picky about the tomatoes’ flavor, I really did enjoy the luxury of home-grown produce.  I am most thankful to Husband, though, because he ended up doing almost all of the work for the garden this summer.  In the first part of the summer, I was so pregnant that I couldn’t even get over the fence easily, and in the second part of the summer, I discovered that if I went outside, especially into the garden, I got eaten alive by mosquitoes.  I got bitten in at least 19 places to collect the tomatoes shown in the photo with the kitchen scale!  Husband seems to be mosquito-resistant, so he graciously harvested for me.


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